Art and Design


As it is known, the rapid development of science and technology in the 20th century armed the artists with the new tools and ways of creativity. The artists who live and work in this historical period implement these possibilities in order to accentuate the need to stop and prevent social and political issues. To enhance the comprehension of modern tendencies, this paper will observe and discuss the artists John Heartfield and Kara Walker, accentuating their ideas, and the ways in which these artists communicate their views to the public.

John Heartfield –the Founder of Photomontage

John Heartfield is known as the founder of photomontage. His idea to merge various pictures in order to create the new surreal images is subordinated to political motives. In particular, living and working in Europe “between the two world wars”, this artist strongly opposed Nazism. It is known that “Heartfield’s agitated images forecasted and reflected the chaos Germany experienced in the 1920s and ’30s as it slipped toward social and political catastrophe”. To comprehend John Heartfield’s input in the anti-fascism movement, one should observe and discuss his artworks.

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First, it is appropriate to explain the novelty of the artist’s approach: he has taken pictures, and thereafter, cut and combined various images creating a kind of collage art. Heartfield’s endeavor to introduce the wickedness of Nazism to the world was meant to become a powerful political weapon; however, it was mostly appreciated as a new form of art. Therefore, one can rightfully presume that photomontage of political motives, in particular, antifascism appeals, sets this artist apart from his contemporaries.

Observing the samples of Heartfield’s artworks, one should refer to the most explicit and topical photographic montage called Adolf Hitler – Superman dated July 1932. In this picture, Hitler is portrayed with the half-transparent body that looks like x-ray picture, but instead of the man’s vertebrae, there are coins (money). Apart from the obvious anti-Nazism call, this artwork reflects another peculiarity of the time when it was created. Specifically, the rapid development of science and medicine predefined the invention of x-ray, which became a great accomplishment of that time.

Furthermore, Heartfield’s collage War and Corpses: The Last Hope of the Rich dated 1932 attracts attention by the significance and topicality of the idea, which is revealed even in its name. This illustration displays a hyena that, with a scary grin, stands on the corpses of soldiers in the middle of the field. On the top of animal’s head, there is a man’s hat; on its neck, there is a swastika mark. In this way, the author reveals the allegory that a hyena, in fact, is the German leader, and the only way for him and his followers to enrich themselves is to force people to war.

Given the above-discussed peculiarities, John Heartfield is rightfully called the founder of photomontage. The artworks of this artist amaze the viewers with the strong emotional effect that they manage to evoke. Specifically, simple black-and-white collages describe the wickedness of fascism, its threats, and the reasons that preceded the emergence of this ideology. This artist used his novelty as a political weapon that became the example to be borrowed by modern journalists who like to highlight social and political issues through caricatures and collages.

The simplicity of Heartfield’s collages is combined with the seriousness of their messages, and it becomes another distinctive feature of this artist. In this way, he resembles a modern American artist, Kara Walker, who implements different, but powerful approaches to carry her ideas that highlight social issues of the modern world.

Kara Walker is a Famous Artist Known for her Installation/Graphic Arts

Kara Walker is a contemporary artist who is known for her unusual ways towards depicting such topical social problems as race, financial, and gender inequity. Walker creates two-dimensional full-size images. The distinctive feature of this artist’s works is clearly visible contrast of colors and shapes that facilitates the transition of one image into the other. What is more, apart from “life-sized paper silhouettes arranged in fantastic and violent tableaux” in 2013 Kara Walker surprised the world with the usual installation. In particular, she created “a 40-foot-tall sphinx with exaggerated African features; the nude figure is attended by a trio of five-foot statues of basket-carrying boys, made of resin and a dark brown candy”. This sculpture was set in the empty Brooklyn sugar factory. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is made of sweets: “80 tons of granular sugar and surrounded by ‘sugar boys’, cherubic, hard-candy figurines ‘in a posture of servitude’, as she described them”. In these specific ways, the artist communicates her negative attitude towards social inequities that result in prejudices, which significantly deteriorates the life of people who are being stereotyped, or experience the stereotyped threat.

Walker’s ideas are stipulated by the tendency towards global freedom and equities that are considered the basis of human rights. As an African-American female, this artist comprehends the importance of continuing the struggle for elimination of racial and gender prejudices. Therefore, her works reveal the condemnation of injustice and resentment regarding the remains of stereotypic thinking in today’s society, which is supposed to have high emotional intelligence.

While observing Walker’s graffiti and installation, one can easily notice that the author addresses the issue of racism through the contrast in colors. Specifically, it begets the idea that the entire world is divided into black and white. What is more, her two-dimensional collection called Emancipation Approximation corresponds the sad idea that stereotypes are not easy to be eliminated. For example, in this collection there is a picture of white swans with black heads of African individuals. It is an allegory – swans embody freedom, and they are positive objects who do not suffer from prejudices. Nevertheless, at the same time, they have black heads. In the modern world, people are granted with freedom, but in reality, it is not always possible to avoid stereotypes that impose limitations fully. Therefore, African-American people may feel like those swans: free to fly, whereas, in fact, their heritage resonates with the social identity of the South and, figuratively speaking, their African-American heads pull them down to the ground. This situation does not allow flying and enjoying their lives to the fullest. Furthermore, the issue of racism is also stressed with the sphinx sculpture of a white sugar woman with African features who is being served by small negro-boys.

Nevertheless, this sculpture also refers to the problem of gender inequity because while viewing this piece of modern art, one can notice something unpleasant and disturbing in this image. Probably, it is the nudity of female, which embodies the idea of insecurity, lack of rights, poor protection of the personal space, and lower social status. Simply put, this image implies the involuntary disclosure, or, in other words, the notion of being a subject, but not the object of social life.

In overall, it is appropriate to emphasize that Kara Walker accentuates topical ideas about social inequity. To succeed with this task, this artist implements sharp contrast of colors, mostly black and white, and shapes. In addition, given that the created images are either full-sized or huge, it is possible to assume that Walker appeals the size in order to stress the magnitude of those social issues. These particularities are the trademarks of Kara Walker that make her arts recognizable among other contemporaries.

The resemblance between Walker and Heartfield is that both artists work mostly with black-and-white palette. On the one hand, it evokes the sense of simplicity that possesses great aesthetic side. On the other hand, black-and-white collages, paper silhouettes, and installation reveal strong contrast, which assists in transferring the ideas from the artists to their audience. Another particularity that unites the artworks of Walker and Heartfield is the adherence to topical social issues of their nation and time. Specifically, being sensitive to the modern struggle against racism, gender, financial inequity, and prejudices, Kara Walker explicitly condemns these wicked notions using her images and installation. Similarly, living and creating in the interwar period, Heartfield has implemented photomontage to condemn ethnic discrimination.

What is more, Walker and Heartfield share a similar approach of creating images: colliding contrasting matters. This peculiarity is clearly visible in Walker’s Emancipation Approximation. For instance, as was discussed above, the black heads are combined with the white swans’ bodies. Another example is a while sphinx with the prominent features of a black woman. Similarly, Heartfield’s Adolf Hitler – Superman contains contrasting images of a human’s body, x-ray body, and money. This way of combining the matters, at first sight, increases the aesthetic value of Walker’s and Heartfield’s artworks. In addition, it reinforces the power of artists’ ideas and makes them more prominent for an average viewer.